While most jazz fans would consider the Blue Note archives to be the pick of the litter when it comes to the material stashed in the Capitol vaults, there is an even farther reaching scope of material recorded for the various labels that now come under the ownership of the EMI conglomerate and many of these can be equally compelling. Touching on items from United Artists, Solid State, Transition, and Capitol Jazz, the following takes a brief look at some recent offerings.
Pianist Chick Corea traveled among some fast company in his early days, recording with name players such as Blue Mitchell, Sonny Stitt, Hubert Laws, and Willie Bobo. When he finally got a chance to document his own music however, it soon became clear that a more far-reaching and boisterous style was bubbling just under the surface of the mainstream and Latin style that he was developing while as a sideman. Corea’s first album to clearly make a mark in terms of innovation would be the 1968 Solid State release Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Blue Note 38265). Although previously available on CD, a new version in 24-bit sound includes the complete contents of the original trio sessions along with facsimile graphics and photos. The ping of Roy Haynes’ ride cymbal comes through even truer than before and Corea makes a lasting impression with such gems as "Matrix" and "Steps-What Was." That this album belongs in any comprehensive collection should go without saying.
Just a little over a year after the making of Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, Corea would again enter the studio for producer Sonny Lester for three consecutive days of recordings, the results of which would be spread out over various releases on Solid State and Groove Merchant. For the first time, master takes and alternates appear together on the two-disc set The Complete ‘Is’ Sessions (Blue Note 40532). Corea is joined by Woody Shaw, Hubert Laws, Bennie Maupin, and a rhythm section that would include Dave Holland and drummers Jack DeJohnette and Horace Arnold. The first disc is the most cohesive, with the kind of bristling excitement and advanced solo work that would mark such Miles Davis’ classics as Filles De Kilimanjaro and In a Silent Way. Disc two takes things even further and a nearly half-hour version of "Is" loses its way through a series of chaotic solo forays and collective noodling. Still, this set adds an additional chapter to the story of Corea’s early years and in that sense it’s particularly valuable.
As the story goes, pianist Bill Evans was very particular when it came to sound engineers. While under contract with Riverside Records, Evans insisted that someone besides the label’s house engineer do his sessions. Unfortunately, Evan’s choice in engineer Bill Schwartau wasn’t quite the answer either. Schwartau could be inconsistent and this fact has long marred the sound quality of one of Evans’ most admired works. In it’s new 24-bit rendition, Undercurrent (Blue Note 38228) sounds probably as good as it’s going to get. Technical considerations aside, Evans and guitarist Jim Hall engage in telepathic duets that set the standard for this kind of thing and have continued to do so since their first release in 1963. Fans of this one will also want to take advantage of the new design, which retains the original album cover format and color, as well as the liner photos.
Like the Evans/Hall record, Duke Ellington’s unusual trio session for United Artists, Money Jungle (Blue Note 38227) had been available before but has now just recently been reissued with updated sound values and two previously unissued alternate takes. Much has been made about the tensions that came with the session and the unlikely combination of Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. Truth is, the music is really not the much different from other trio dates that Ellington had recorded. Some wonderful pieces of Ellingtonia emerge here such as "Fleurette Africaine," "Wig Wise," and "Backward Country Boy Blues." Bill Schwartau again makes the scene as engineer, but the results are pleasant and appealing this go-round.
Two albums from trumpeter Donald Byrd and one from bassist Doug Watkins constitute the two-disc set The Transition Sessions (Blue Note 40528), all of which makes available music that has been long out-of-print and highly sought by hardcore collectors. Of course, the advanced packaging and booklets that made the original Transition pressings so desirable can’t be replicated in CD form, but the sound quality is quite good considering that many of producer Tom Wilson’s productions were done on an extremely tight budget. The albums included are Byrd’s Eye View, Byrd Blows on Beacon Hill, and Watkins at Large. Heavies such as Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Kenny Burrell, and Art Blakey make the scene with the kind of hard bop blowing ditties that were popular at the time; nothing groundbreaking here, but pleasant nonetheless.
When the ever-popular alto man Cannonball Adderley jumped ship from the independent Riverside label to Capitol Records he cut some sort of deal that allowed him to retain ownership of several of his Riverside dates. These sessions quickly languished in the Capitol vaults until original producer Orrin Keepnews got the leasing rights and allowed the albums a brief appearance on his own Landmark imprimatur. Over the past four years, Capitol has endeavored to reissue these albums a few at a time, with the most current edition being 1959’s Cannonball Takes Charge (Capitol Jazz 34071). Of all his quartet dates, this one may be the pick of the lot, Adderley’s boisterous approach charging out of the gates from the first notes of "If This Isn’t Love." But then too his ballad style was without reproach, as witnessed by "I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" and "Poor Butterfly." Add the piano of Wynton Kelly and you have a classic that ranks among Adderley’s finest efforts.
While it seems that most would consider Nat King Cole’s best work to be his trio sides cut way early in his career and before his commercial break through, there are a few gems sprinkled among his later work that merit a closer look. One of them is undeniably the 1960 set Nat King Cole At the Sands (Capitol Jazz 38694). In the company of his trio and a full band, Cole belts out such chestnuts as "The Continental," "My Kinda Love," "Miss Otis Regrets," and "I Wish You Love." There are three bonus tracks included as well as an equal number of trio numbers where Cole tickles the ivories with characteristic élan.